Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to participate in the debate on the federal accountability act.
As everyone is now aware, this is what I would classify as an omnibus bill. It is large, it is complex and it will be referred to a committee. I think that is a good thing. I have confidence in the committee system and it will be studied and analyzed at the committee. Generally speaking, I support the thrust of the bill. Any time we clarify roles, define expectations and increase transparency and oversight, I think those principles are good. However, from my first reading of the bill, my fear is that the law of unintended consequences may creep in, which is why it is good to refer the matter to a committee.
I wholeheartedly support some provisions in the bill but others need refinement and others are downright silly which, hopefully, will be dropped by the committee.
I should point out that this is really not that groundbreaking. Many of the provisions in the bill are a continuation of initiatives in Bill C-24, the whistleblower legislation, which the previous speaker spoke to, legislation that had been debated, discussed and passed by the House in the last Parliament. It dealt with some of the major changes dealing with procurement in the federal government, the institution of the Comptroller General and some of the changes with the Ethics Commissioner.
I certainly support the provisions for dealing with donations to political parties and the whole idea of secret donations. I do not know how extensive they are. I have never received one and I do not know anyone else who has but anything like that should be stopped in its tracks.
The whole issue of lobbyists has bothered me since I arrived in the House. I had to call a deputy minister or someone else when I was in government but it was difficult to meet with them. However when I would go to Wilfrid's or other restaurants around town I would see them meeting with lobbyists, which has always concerned me. I think that is something that we should bring to light in the House.
The intention of government with regard to government appointments is probably a positive development, although it has not been followed by the government so far.
The area I have real concern about is the institution of the office of the public prosecutions official. Given the limited scope of what this person would do, which would be drug offences, income tax and shipping act violations, I see it as being somewhat silly.
The parliamentary budget authority is something that perhaps can be discussed in committee but it seems to me that has been the procedure followed over the last 10 years, but by taking an average of all the economists across Canada a lot of times the economists had it wrong. These things are subject to tremendous variations and it will be hard to pin it right on the nose. I believe it is a duplication and a waste of time and effort.
When we go forward as a House discussing this bill I think we need to bear in mind the balance between allowing public servants to take risks and to accept change and that one is not always looking out for one's back. We also need to differentiate between making a mistake and wrongdoing. We all make mistakes and in time when we take a risk, make a change or take an initiative a lot of times we do make mistakes.
I distinctly remember making a mistake in my first month practising law some 30 years ago. I thought it was serious so I went to the senior partner of the firm and I apologized for the mistake. He said that he did not see it as being that serious and he told me to show him a lawyer who did not make mistakes and he would show me a lawyer who did not make any money. We all make mistakes but we need to differentiate mistakes from wrongdoing. I think that will be very important with the bill.
Dealing with the whole issue of accountability, there are two measures that are not in the bill. If the two measures were in the bill, it would increase accountability in this town substantially. First, is the tenure of deputy ministers. One of the biggest problems in the administration of government is the short tenure for deputy ministers. They serve, on average, about a year and a half to a year and three-quarters, and there is no accountability.
If we look back at the function of departments, there are problems, but the deputy minister has only been there a year, and the deputy before that was there only a year and a half, so no one is accountable. They can always say they were not there or not there long enough. This was the recommendation which came forward in the Gomery report that the tenure of a deputy minister should be at least five years, so that there is accountability and that those deputies be held to account.
The second measure is the whole issue of sanctions. This is a tool that would be available to ministers and deputy ministers when we do have wrongdoing, not mistakes. This has been talked about in the accountability act with the financial administration and I agree with that, but it should be stronger than that. I have been on the public accounts committee for five and a half years now and I have seen problems. With a budget of $200 billion and 450,000 public servants, there are going to be problems. If anyone in the House thinks that they are going to correct all the problems of the world by one act, they are fooling themselves.
I have asked the question at least 40 or 50 times, when there is a problem and someone sees wrongdoing, of whether there has been any disciplinary action taken? Every time the answer has been “no”. Was there any disciplinary action taken with Mr. Guité? No. Was there any disciplinary action taken with Mr. Quail? No. No one has ever been disciplined, that I am aware of, in any of the cases of wrongdoing we have investigated in the public accounts committee.
Those two measures would increase and improve accountability tremendously in the House, although they are not in the bill. Having said that, this is why we debate these bills in the House. That is why they are referred to committee and it will come back, and I do look forward to the debate.
The only difficulty I see which disappoints me tremendously is what I call the pith and substance of what the accountability bill states is going on here in Ottawa. The government says it has five priorities but actually it has six.
The first priority of the Prime Minister was to appoint his co-chair to the Senate and then appoint him as the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. That absolutely destroys any line of accountability in the House. The House of Commons is an institution of accountability. Our job is to pass legislation, grant allocations for spending of money, and to hold the executive to account.
A very important part of the executive of the government is the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, who is not in the House. I asked a member who spoke to the bill yesterday and he said that there is nothing to worry about because the minister is accountable to another institution. That is not accountability. I find it offensive. I was disappointed. I thought the President of the Treasury Board would deal with that spectacle in this bill, but he did not. That is probably the situation I am most disappointed about and I do hope this spectacle does end very soon.
Regarding the whole issue of political fundraising, I agree with the pith and substance of what the bill says, but this Friday night, Mr. Speaker, if you have $1,000, I can get you into a dinner with the Prime Minister in my home town of Charlottetown. If you have $1,500, I can take you to Moncton the following night and you can have two dinners, and enjoy the company of the Prime Minister if you were so interested.
The bill talks about the Ethics Commissioner being of a judicial or quasi-judicial background. We had a spectacle a month ago where the Prime Minister was offering the job to an ex-member of the House. He was qualified, but he certainly did not have these qualifications. Again, it just goes to show that what the act says and what the government is doing are totally opposite and it is very disappointing.
I am thankful for this time to present my views on the bill. I look forward to further debate in the House and to the report of the committee.